The Thick of It


Monday, March 22, 2010

Clean politics: state funding of political parties

I've long said that the only way to clean up politics is to end all interference from outside interests is to stop MPs taking second jobs and stop outside donations to political parties. That means state funding of political parties. The same argument is usually given against it - that people already fed up with politics and politicians won't want to pay even more for it. A clean politics free of vested interests and sleaze is a price worth paying and a price those fed up with corruption would be prepared to pay. I was pleased to read that the Evening Standard's city editor Chris Blackhurst agrees with state funded political parties. It is the only way for voters to be able to believe politicians from all parties are free of vested interests.

Whatever happened to Boris' 'war on roadworks'?

I saw that there are now record levels of roadworks in London. I remember going to a mayoral hustings where Boris Johnson scoffed at then mayor Ken Livingstone's claim that disruptions then were largely due to Thames Water. He now uses that as his excuse for the current disruption - probably now that he has actually checked his facts. Like many of his other campaign and manifesto pledges, where is Boris' 'war on roadworks'?  That needs to be added to the growing list of unfulfilled pledges:

  • Chairing the Metropolitan Police Authority
  • 50,000 new affordable homes
  • Closing tube ticket offices
  • Giving Londoners more bang for their buck with the LDA
  • No cabinet for London
Boris Johnson's mayoralty has no purpose. The only point was simply to gain power for the sake of it. He is demonstrating that by consistently failing to deliver on even his own promises - let alone the expectations of  Londoners.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Stephen Byers, Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt look rather silly today after being caught on camera boasting about how they could influence government policy for money.

Lobbying has happened for a long time. It isn't new. There are 61 companies registered with trade body the Association for Professional Political Consultants who represent the lobbying industry. The industry has largely been self regulating to date though the current backlash against politicians following expenses means that Hoon, Hewitt and Byers' antics won't be popular with voters.

Neither is it new for politicians to seek lucrative employment making money out of their connections once their political career has peaked. A high profile example is former Prime Minister John Major is working for the Carlyle Group.

What has changed is people's attitude to money. This might be an effect of the recession. The fact that it is now news may be a good thing for the long term probity of politics because it shows that people are becoming less tolerant of people making money for the sake of it and distorting the political process at the same time. If we have a system where those with the deepest pockets get what they want at the expense of those who can't afford to pay confidence in democracy will be hit.

That these particular three former Labour ministers have been caught red-faced won't worry too many Labour members. They have never been well liked. The bigger impact will be felt on the doorstep where voters will tire of another piece of the political block of confidence being chipped away. Remember that Hoon and Hewitt were also behind the January failed coup against Gordon Brown. This affair and particularly Byers' boasting on camera smacks of fallen stars trying to prove to their egos that they still matter. Unfortunately their latest intervention could mean that ordinary members will face the backlash from voters at the doorstep.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Clean politics: Tory donates £142,000 to his own campaign

Edmonton Tory candidate and nightclub owner Andrew Charalambous has reportedly donated over £142,000 to his own election campaign.

The figures released by the Electoral Commission and first reported by the Financial Times, have since been followed up by the Evening Standard after the local Labour Party highlighted it. I have had reports that Charalambous has paid for mugs with his name on, an air balloon with his face on and has been leafleting local churches. For his sake I really hope he realises that there is a spending limit of around £30-40,000 per candidate, per constituency. I guess that looking at recent results in Andy Love's constituency there isn't much likelihood that Lord Ashcroft's Belize fund would deem it a marginal seat and Charalambous has felt it necessary to dip into his own pockets.

Wouldn't the Tory party have preferred his money to be spent elsewhere?

Friday, March 05, 2010

Cashcroft debate on BBC News Channel

Last night I debated the gravity of the Ashcroft affair with's Mike Smithson and Chair to Tory Future Michael Rock. Watch the clip. My key point was that we need people to have confidence in politics and whether Ashcroft has broken the law or not, the stench from his secretive affairs chip away at this. Could the Tories enter office already tainted by sleaze?

Cashcroft and Hague's pals

The Ashcroft heat has rightly turned to William Hague after Tory colleagues expressed dismay that he kept Cameron in the dark over his knowledge of Lord Ashcroft's non-dom status. Did Billy Fizz think he was still leader by mistake?

Lets remind ourselves of some of Hague's highlights whilst leader:

This story still has legs as long as questions remain about William Hague.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

William Hague's pals: Ashcroft and Black

The continuing furore over Lord Ashcroft's tax status and his funding of the Tory election campaign has left William Hague "exposed". It should also be stacked alongside his other high profile recommendation for a peerage: Conrad Black, who is in jail for fraud.

Hague judgement is facing serious questions not least because even recently he denied knowledge of Ashcroft's tax status, which he has now admitted to knowing. Hague has also claimed that it was not his business to question Ashcroft about his tax. This doesn't stand up when set against Hague's prediction that AShcorft's "move" to the UK would bring in "tens of millions of pounds a year” in tax revenue. Former Cabinet Secretary Lord Tuyrnbull has criticised Hague for saying that "that this was the real deal. It turns out that Ashcroft is being economical with the truth and that Hague fell for it".

Hague has seemingly lied about his knowledge of Ashcroft's tax status very recently. He has protected an ally who has consistently backed the him and also the Tory party when they were at a very low ebb, post 1997. The political capital of continuing to back Ashcroft is now running out. If this story continues to run it will stain any Tory victory and if that happened, they would enter office with suggestions of sleaze already hanging over them.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010


Lord Ashcroft probably thought that by ending years of speculation and announcing his status as a non-dom that after a couple of days of hysteria, the story would be killed. So far the hullabaloo around Ashcroft's tax status has grown rather than diminished. This is a problem for the Tories and politics generally because his donations to the Tory election fund open suggestions that his money is 'buying' the election. Cash for honours and covert funding of political parties undermines confidence in the UK's political process.

The Ashcroft affair suggest politics can be bought. With a high number of extremely marginal seats fought in this year's election increased funding for local campaigns from Ashcroft's money will be able to make a key difference. Aside from the promises he is said to have made about paying tax in the UK to gain a peerage, Ashcroft's money raises  serious questions about the influence of private money over our elections.

Michael White highlights how it isn't just the non-dom problem that is an issue here. It is the influence of someone who doesn't pay tax here having over Tory policy making and campaigning in marginal seats: "Ashcroft is using what should have been taxpayers' money to finance his campaign in the marginals". This affair also leaves serious questions unanswered abut Ashcroft's influence over Cameron and Hague - the latter of which also recommended convicted fraudster Conrad Black for a peerage whilst Tory leader. 

State funding of politics would ensure that accusations over political donations, such as those by Lord Ashcroft, would be banished. A fully elected second chamber would also banish the potential to buy influence in our legislature. James Purnell, a sad loss to the commons, agrees. Only this way can we start to restore faith in our politics.

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